Will foot strengthening help your running?

Will foot strength exercises help your running?

Doug James

intraining Running Injury Clinic  – physiotherapist and podiatrist

The minimalist running footwear trend of the 2000’s was driven partly by the theory that cushioned and supportive shoes contributed to foot muscle weakness which would lead to injury. Several years on, some of the major players from that era – notably Vibram – have faced lawsuits for their misleading and unsubstantiated claims suggesting their ‘shoes’ would reduce injury.  

A related trend to emerge from that era was the practice for podiatrists and other allied health professionals to prescribe foot intrinsic muscle strengthening exercises – in the name of treating and/or preventing injury – a particular focus of which is for treating the heel pain injury, Plantar Fasciitis.

It has been reported in scientific studies that people with Plantar Fasciitis tend to have weaker foot muscles, though this is based on observational studies where the existence and role of foot weakness in Plantar Fasciitis can’t be precisely determined (meaning that the foot weakness may have existed before the injury, started as a result of it, or may have nothing to do with it). Other studies theorising that a low arch height contributes to foot injury have looked at whether foot muscle strength contributes to arch height, though it seems to have little bearing.

While scientific literature may not overwhelmingly support the use of foot strengthening exercises from an injury prevention point of view, there may still be an advantage for runners. It is possible that stronger feet may lead to running performance advantages, where strong feet tend to be stiffer which can facilitate greater power and propulsion.

Injuries that runners have found foot strengthening exercises useful for include:

  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Achilles Tendonitis
  • Calf strains

Why have these been helpful?

When a specific site is injured, such as the Achilles tendon, strength exercises are needed to regain its function for running.  This requires work from the muscles and tendons both above and below the Achilles tendon so that they can allow time for the tendon to heal and then for it to regain full strength.  Foot strength exercises that work the tendons from the lower leg and smaller muscles at the foot can be effective in adding to your mix of rehabilitation activities.  

It is possible that stronger feet may lead to running performance advantages

If you are interested in learning more about foot strengthening exercises and how they may help your running, please contact the intraining Running Injury Clinic to book an appointment.